February 2003
Porto Alegre: Economy of Solidarity Becomes Major Theme for International Civil Society
Françoise Wautiez, Philippe Amouroux

The Brazilian workgroup in charge of preparing the events on the Economy of Solidarity theme invited the main national and international networks to participate in an International Network of Promoters for the World Social Forum III. To enable better communication, the WSES facilitated, as of last year, an electronic forum in French, English, Spanish, and Portuguese, with a strong Brazilian and French participation, but also with participants from several countries of Latin America (Argentines, Chileans, Colombians, Mexicans, and Peruvians), North America (Canadians, especially from Quebec, and Americans), Europe (Belgians, Spaniards, Dutch, Italians), Africa (Beninese, Cameroonians, Senegalese), and Asia (India, Malaysia, and the Philippines).

Compared to last year, some very positive points can be observed:

  • The dialogue began as early as the July 2002, whereas it had only begun, with some difficulty, in December 2001 for the WSF II, which took place in January 2002.
  • 215 messages were exchanged, up from 100 the previous year.
  • The discussions were based on the findings of the previous Forum (WSF II) (which topics to be treated in priority, improvements to be made to the collective process, etc.)
  • 19 national networks participated in the dialogue, up from 13 the previous year.

The Promoters Network was thus able to organize a common program including:

  1. A Panel on the Economy of Solidarity: "A Socioeconomy of Solidarity, a Strategy of Human Development".
  2. Four Seminars on the following themes:
    • Ethical Consumption and Fair Trade,
    • Public Policies, State-Society Relations,
    • A World System of Finance in Solidarity,
    • Innovative Practices and Self-management
  3. A General Summarization Seminar on the events on the Economy of Solidarity (ES) theme including reports of the Panel and of the four above-mentioned topics, in addition to one on Social Money, one on Women and Economy, and an general summary.
  4. About ten workshops on the above topics and on the WTO.

A mapped model (.gif 59 ko - in French or in Spanish made it possible to understand how the events were linked together. The summarization process was the result of particularly well-coordinated collective work. For each topic there was a working group, then a group including representatives of every topic, and an general summarization team, which worked a half-day before the final Round Table.

The general summary of the ES events was presented by Carola Reintjes and Marcos Arruda at the Summarization Panel for the first of the five main WSF themes (Work Area 1), "Democratic and Sustainable Development," facilitated by Walden Bello.

IN addition to the common program, a lot of other seminars and workshops were organized on the different ES topics. All in all, this came to more than 130 events, close to 8% of the 1,700 events of the WSF.

The Economy of Solidarity was born at first to fill in the gaps in the present economic system: shortage of money; forbidden access, for an important part of the population, to the economic system, to credit, to economic initiative; the growing gap between the rich and the poor; environmental destruction due to a market rationale governed by competition; and the monopolization of financial power. However, the economy of solidarity has now begun to emerge, not only as an alternative to offset the shortcomings of the system, but as a full-sized prefiguration of another, more human economy. Its different families are clearly complementary.

Of course, all this is recent and as ES activists we are still fighting to exist day after day, to show that we exist and to show that what we are bringing is new and promising. Even in this Social Forum we still had to fight to get the room we needed to express ourselves.

However, we can consider that the work accomplished is very positive: in the final contribution for the Summarization Panel, Walden Bello expressed that the time had come not only to fight against globalization and to deconstruct the present system, but that it was necessary to build a new and more human economy. He indicated that the economy of solidarity was already a living testimony of this new economy and a door that had been opened to go to it. He stated that from now on, it will be one of the strong topics of the World Social Forum.

The facilitators and participants of the socioeconomic workshops of the Alliance were very present in the entire process: in the electronic forum, in the organization of the Workshops and Seminars, in the events themselves, in the Panel, and finally in the summarization process. They were chosen naturally as rapporteurs for the general summary and for the summaries on the topics of Fair Trade, Social Money, Women and the Economy, and Public Policies.

They also took advantage of their presence in Porto Alegre to hold three coordination meetings (general facilitation team, facilitators, and the more active participants of the WSES workshops), after which it was decided to hold, in the months to come, two methodological workshops:

  • one on the functioning of the workshops: concrete implementation of cross-cutting analyses among all the workshops and socioprofessional groups of the Alliance, enlargement of the participation (geographic to include the underrepresented continents, socioprofessional, women, actors on the field);
  • another on the articulation with social movements, the operational networks of the economy of solidarity, and the circulation and impact of the workshop results.

Finally, several workshops (Women and Economy, Social Money, Fair Trade, Indicators and Vision) held a first meeting, which resulted in an action plan for 2003 that will be proposed in the following weeks on the corresponding electronic forums.

To conclude, this third World Social Forum was marked on the whole by clear progress in collective work in terms of organization, comparing views, summarization, and the articulation among topics. This is the most significant impression produced by the main events, the Controversy and Dialogue Round Tables, and the Panels, and it was fully felt in the events on the economy of solidarity, be they Seminars or Workshops. Of course, we know that we still have a lot of work to do in this direction, but we did progress a lot this year. We will now take up with optimism the challenge of India 2004.